Culture Shock - Cultural Differences in Coping Strategies

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2005
19 Pages, Grade: A-


Table of content

1 Cultural Diversity

2 Coping Strategies

3 Study Design
3.1 Method
3.1.1 Sample Selection and Procedure
3.1.2 Measures
3.1.3 Hypotheses
3.2 Results
3.2.1 Cultural differences in the assessment of case studies
3.2.2 National differences in coping strategies
3.2.3 Further Findings

4 Discussion



1 Cultural Diversity

Crossing the nations boarder was always one of people’s aims. This ancient phenomenon was over hundreds and thousands of years connected with conquer and war, territories and colonies. Only the recent development of information and communication technologies allowed a global network of economy, politics and science. The connection of these fields lead to an exchange of cultures; especially larger cities are often named as a melting pot. Therefore, the development of multicultural societies concerns every single person and cross-cultural competences are required from everybody. Taking part in international exchange study programs is a possibility for students to reach those competences (Thomas 1993, p. 377).

According to Thomas (1993, pp. 389-391) cultures differ in four dimensions.

First dimension is the unequal allocation of power, and the acceptance of this condition, in institutions and organizations.

He names the degree of avoiding uncertainty as another dimension. It means the intensity how important security is for the inhabitants of the country. For instance, people in Germany show low unequal allocation of power but very high need for security. India reached opposite scores. Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil have a high unequal distribution of power and a high need for protection.

The third dimension he mentions is masculinity versus femininity in a society. While male attributes are gender specific differences, dominance, power, material success, female traits mean less gender specific differences in main issues, care for socially disadvantages and importance of immaterial quality of life.

The last dimension differentiates individualistic versus collectivistic cultures. Landis et al (2004) suggests that people from individualistic cultures (North Americans of European backgrounds, North and West Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders) behave in an idiocentric way, whereas allocentric people come from collectivistic countries (Latin Americans, Southern Europeans, East and South Asians, Africans). People from individualistic cultures pay attention to the content of communications; in collectivistic cultures they pay attention to the context, how something was said, the gestures, the settings in which communication occurred. Being aggressive or assertive can be seen as a virtue for individualists, compared to collectivists, who prefer an accommodating and modest behavior. Also helping a friend is seen as a duty, while idiocentrics see it as a matter of personal choice.

Societal differences demand much aims from those who live, study or work for a fixed period in a foreign country. The strains of acculturation, do not appear in the beginning only, they can be seen as a process, which changes through time of stay (see Figure 1). When individuals interface with a new host society, they face many challenges in terms of adjusting to a new language, different customs and norms for social interactions, unfamiliar rules and laws, and in some cases extreme lifestyle changes (e.g., rural to urban). Acculturation refers to this process of adjusting to these life changes. The demands of adapting to cultural differences such as these can lead to increased stress, otherwise known as culture shock (Oberg, 2004).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: process of acculturation stresses according to Berry 1985 (in Thomas, 1993, p. 388)

According to Thomas (1993, p. 386), a satisfying and stable social network of people from one’s own culture, from the host country, and from other foreign cultures, supports the reduction of acculturation stressors. Other authors mention that there are important factors for a successful intercultural adjustment existing.

Bolten (2001, p. 85-88) lists several personal competences like tolerance for ambiguities, adaptability and flexibility, openness, communicativeness, empathy, willingness to learn from others, self-discipline and in general tolerance.

Dealing with all those uncertainties in a foreign culture, means also developing strategies of coping, to use competences effectively. The following part focuses on those approaches.

2 Coping Strategies

Coping strategies are only needed when meeting a demanding situation, like a stay abroad in an unknown cultural surrounding. According to Sarason 1990 (in Zeidner 1998, S. 17), stress can be seen as a basic human feeling, which signals a threatening situation in the environment. It appears, when a person faces demanding situations, does not know any adequate reactions, presumes undesirable outcomes or failure.

In the psychoanalytic ego psychology model, coping is defined as realistic and flexible thoughts and acts that solve problems and thereby reduce stress. Important in this model is the strong relationship between a person and his/her environment, followed by many complex processes (Lazarus and Folkman, 1991, p. 190). The implementation of coping is dependent on several experiences and personality factors.

People’s beliefs in their coping capabilities affect their experience of stress and depression in threatening or difficult situations, as well as their level of motivation. Perceived self-efficacy to exercise control over stressors plays a central role in anxiety arousal. People who believe they cannot manage threats experience high anxiety arousal; they dwell on their coping deficiencies. Through such inefficacious thinking they distress themselves and impair their level of functioning. Perceived coping self-efficacy regulates avoidance behavior as well as anxiety arousal. The stronger the sense of self-efficacy, the bolder people are in taking on taxing and threatening activities (Bandura, 1994). According to Schwarzer and Scholz (2000) self-efficacy is commonly understood as being domain specific, but a generalized sense of self-efficacy refers to a global confidence in one’s coping abilities across a wide range of demanding or novel situations.

According to Monat und Lazarus (1991, p. 6) two different categories of coping styles can be emphasized. Problem-focused coping refers to efforts to improve the troubled person-environment relationship by changing things. For instance, by seeking information about what to do, by holding back from impulsive and premature actions, or by confronting the person responsible for one’s difficulty. Emotion-focused coping refers to thoughts or actions whose goal is to relieve the emotional impact of stress. These are apt to be mainly palliative in the sense that such strategies of coping do not actually alter the threatening conditions but make the person feel better. For instance avoiding thinking about the stress factors, denying that anything is wrong, distancing oneself, or attempting to relax.

3 Study Design

3.1 Method

3.1.1 Sample Selection and Procedure

The international study program of Psychology of Excellence at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich allows meeting students from all over the world. Since the program is limited, and some are studying individually on their master thesis, the reachable amount of students is varying. Active students received the paper version of the questionnaire while attending classes. All other members of the excellence program received a Microsoft Word form by email, which they could send back as an attachment. The content of both questionnaires remained the same.[1]


[1] The questionnaire in original is available in the attachment

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Culture Shock - Cultural Differences in Coping Strategies
LMU Munich  (Department Psychologie)
Research Practice
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
425 KB
This research study focuses on differnces in coping strategies of students from 25 countries. The questionnaire used, included a combination of validated scales and open questions describing stress situations.
Culture, Shock, Cultural, Differences, Coping, Strategies, Research, Practice
Quote paper
Iris Hackermeier (Author), 2005, Culture Shock - Cultural Differences in Coping Strategies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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